Microsoft has launched its biggest effort yet to clamp down on people who sell illegal copies of its software online by filing lawsuits against dealers who use auction sites.

It is the first time the world’s biggest software maker has taken legal action worldwide to stamp out sales of pirated software on auction sites such as Ebay.

The move is part of a broader effort to boost the security of Microsoft software by improving engineering and by cracking down on illegal copies, which often contain spyware, viruses or other unwanted programs.

Matt Lundy, a Microsoft lawyer, said it was “committed to taking the necessary legal action to protect consumers worldwide from the dangers of counterfeit software”. The dangers include exposure to computer viruses and spyware, according to a recent study by IDC, the market research group.

The study, sponsored by Microsoft, found that a quarter of sites offering pirated software or counterfeit access keys tried to install malicious or unwanted software on users’ computers.

Microsoft intervenes to stop sales of pirated software in about 50,000 Ebay auctions each year, it said. It had launched 55 lawsuits in 11 countries, mostly in the US, UK, Germany and the Netherlands. It also took legal action against online dealers in France, Belgium, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, Korea and Poland.

In a Microsoft study of 115 software products bought on Ebay, 39 per cent were counterfeit and another 12 per cent contained software that was either counterfeit or had been tampered with.

Ebay challenged Microsoft’s figures but was “happy to work with them” in the battle against counterfeiters.

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